November turned out to be a massive watching month. This is the time of the year when I really ramp up my new release viewing in anticipation of year in review posts. Overall, this was a good month with plenty of really great stuff, both new and old despite a whole bunch of rubbish 2013 releases being consumed. Please share your thoughts on these in the comments section below.
- Thor: The Dark World (2013), Alan Taylor – I could quibble with aspects of this film, but why bother. Marvel continues their run of making bombastic, exceedingly fun and visually interesting mainstream cinema. It’s not as good as Iron Man 3, also from this year, but it’s different so good on Marvel who could take a cookie cutter approach to their films and still make billions. The relationship between Thor and Loki is the meat of this film and it is examined more interestingly here than in previous films. Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston are excellent.
- Brute Force (1947), Jules Dassin – A really incredible and ahead of its time prison film. It uses the prison escape genre to make social commentary, and particularly shows the evil that arises from the power that those in charge of prisons have. The action inside the prison walls is shocking and lives up to the film’s title. A very fine film that manages to be both enjoyable and examine the philosophy of the prison system.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Chris Columbus – The books never did anything for me and I had seen two of the later films randomly. But I am really glad I chose to go back and take a look at this. The film has a cool sense of magic from the get go. It is supremely well made, written and acted with great characters like Hagrid and Hermione Granger. Can see how this will become iconic for the generation that lined up to see it in cinemas. Young Radcliffe is really good and Emma Watson nails that smarmy, overachieving student vibe. Cracking adventure and not afraid to be intense at times.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Chris Columbus – I initially had fears that Dobby was going to be the Jar Jar Binks of this film. This just continues the awesomeness of the first film really. Kenneth Branagh is such a dude. There is a nice evolution of Harry’s character with more pep and confidence. It perhaps lacks a touch of the first film’s charm. But it is still fantastic. Ramps up the tension even more though (especially for an arachnophobe like me). This is bigger in terms of scope and action than the first film and is brilliantly designed as well.
- Around the Block (2013), Sarah Spillane – This Aussie flick was the closing night film of the Canberra Film Festival. Whilst the script is initially beset by cliché, which it never entirely escapes, it does get a lot stronger. Spillane is an exceptional directing talent and the film is wonderfully put together. And the cast is phenomenal with Matt Nable being a beast of intensity. Really want to see him onscreen more. His is as good a supporting performance as you will see and young lead Hunter Page-Lochard is graceful and very good as well.
- Captain Phillips (2013), Paul Greengrass – The last half hour of this is more tense than anything I have seen for a long time. Tom Hanks, who has been his usual solid self til then, really hits it out of the park through this period. Greengrass is always a director supremely in control of his material and this film is no different. One of the best directors working today.
- The Counsellor (2013), Ridley Scott – Dialogue heavy, but not necessarily in a bad way. The Cormac McCarthy script is a big draw after all and that is the main attraction here. At times what McCarthy delivers it is absolutely sublime. There are also a bunch of really good performances – Pitt, Fassbender, Cruz and Diaz especially. Would be nice if Javier Bardem could just dial it down every once in a while though. I’m not really sure why this has copped such strident criticism. I thought it was original and satisfying.
- Parks and Recreation Season 3 (2011), Greg Daniels & Michael Schlur – This show continues to be the smartest and funniest thing going and turns the spotlight on the government system searingly. The addition of Rob Lowe is a good one. He is a fine actor and creates a hell of a character here. Chris Pratt’s Andy really comes into his own in this series. He is a great comedic talent. This is also the series which elevates the character of Ron Swanson to nothing short of iconic heights. His mindset is brought to life stunningly well and hilariously.
- Fruitvale Station (2013), Ryan Coogler – This is a film of quiet power. A tale of the disenfranchisement of the African American male in contemporary America. There has been no better performance this year than Michael B. Jordan’s here. Cinema that is so raw and truthful is a very rare thing. It’s a rawness that at one point had me biting on my knuckle just to hold on. As a result, the film is unique and demands to be seen. A journey of a deep and complex central character, which explores important issues such as the treatment of African American men and the almost unchecked power of police. A firecracker of a film that left me in a daze.
- Speed (1994), Jan de Bont – I had forgotten how delightfully 90s this film is. Everything from the open credits, to the action has aged pretty badly. But it is still totally tense and awesome. And no one does menacing like Dennis Hopper and he gets lots of opportunity here. Actually everyone is good in this and it really does hold up as a bit of an action classic.
- Parks and Recreation Season 4 (2011), Greg Daniels & Michael Schlur – Those behind this series have the writing of wonderfully unique characters down pat. They have also somehow managed to make the relationship of April and Andy, which seemed so absurd at first, into something genuinely tender and almost adorable. As for Amy Poehler, she continues to be all kinds of awesome, even nailing a couple of really good dramatic scenes as the season revolves around her tilt for public office.
- Jumanji (1995), Joe Johnston – A board game that comes alive is a great concept for a film and this manages to do it justice. It looks great, the CGI actually holds up well and there is some really food use of models too. Even at a young age Kirsten Dunst was a really good actress and this is one of Robin Williams better screen turns as well. It excels in being a relatively psychological film; the relationships between the four main characters are nicely complex.
Not Worth Watching:
- The Evil Dead II (1987), Sam Raimi – Perhaps I just don’t ‘get’ this series. Despite a cool start which establishes the myths of the Necronomicon, like the first film, this didn’t work for me. It still felt cheap, despite the higher budget and I was just totally disinterested by what was happening. The film felt silly to me and aside from the mythology at the start, the lack of character build-up was almost comical. Not to mention that the effects are just annoying. A freaking cool ending though.
- Rush (2013), Ron Howard – Everyone else seems to love this, but to me it just felt tired. Howard has been blessed with two amazing real life characters and a monumental F1 season full of every drama you can imagine. But despite the excellent performances from Bruhl and Hemsworth, the director cannot make it soar. Where there should be so much exhilaration and emotion, there is none.
- The Internship (2013), Shawn Levy – This film is so tired. The patter between the two leads is exactly the same as every other Wilson/Vaughn outing. Even for a film about jobs at Google the product placement is gratuitous. No laughs at all to be had here and it is looong. A decent (if overlong) TV ad for Google, but a garbage movie.
- Identity Thief (2013), Seth Gordon – I defy anyone not to love Melissa McCarthy as a screen presence. But even she cannot save this film. The reliance on jokes about Bateman’s character having a girl’s name is not a positive start. The first half is slightly better than average (almost entirely due to McCarthy). But the second half becomes mired in a dirge of sentimentality and ruins any promise the first half showed.
- How I Live Now (2013), Kevin Macdonald – It is a shame this is so bloody terrible cause there are some interesting ideas here. Saoirse Ronan gets it on with her cousin and WWIII breaks out, but neither are dealt with any incisiveness. Even the better bits of the film rely on a series succession of cheap shocks rather than building any atmosphere or feeling.
- Machete Kills (2013), Robert Rodriguez – I’m usually a fan of Rodriguez’s B movie stylings, but this makes the mistake of going for all out silliness without the charm that is needed to sustain it. Also has a story you don’t give a fuck about and no worthwhile character arcs. That is not to say there are no moments of idiotic bloody brilliance that will make you smile though, because there are a few. But too few, and coupled with the occasional hint of misogyny make this one to miss.
If you only have time to watch one Fruitvale Station
Avoid at all costs The Internship